When Tyler Summitt joined the Tennessee men's basketball team as a walk-on this season, I wondered, "What's the point?" Having grown up in the same house with Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, he already had an advanced degree in the sport.
When other children were cutting out paper dolls, he was cutting down nets. He learned more about the game in dinner conversation than most kids did in a childhood full of pricey basketball camps.
No wonder, he wants to be a basketball coach. He has a lifetime head-start on his contemporaries.
With such a privileged background in the coaching experience, why spend your college days hanging out with a basketball team? Isn't that like taking beginner's French in college after growing up in Paris?
More than halfway through the season, we have our answer. The guy now looks like a psychic.
The 2010-11 Vols aren't just a basketball team. They're a veritable laboratory for anyone intent on broadening his basketball horizons.
Pat Summitt has won more than a thousand games and eight national titles.
Yet she has never experienced a season as strange as this one. And you know what the great coaches say: "When the going gets strange, the future coaches get out their notebooks."
Because of the SEC-imposed eight-game suspension for conference games, Pearl stayed home when the Vols traveled to Georgia last week, returned to coach a non-conference game against Connecticut last Saturday, but isn't allowed within shouting distance of Thompson-Boling Arena for tonight's game against LSU.
The team has to check the schedule to know who the head coach is. It's more apt to suffer from separation anxiety than the flu.
While Pearl's suspension is the prevailing theme, it's complemented by lesser issues - all worthy of a future coach's notebook.
For example, take the aforementioned Hopson, generally regarded as the team's most talented player. His coaches don't go to sleep counting sheep. They count ways to keep him involved.
Last week, Pearl said he had Hopson guarding opposing forwards the previous two games, because if Hopson played closer to the basket on defense, he might be more inclined to attack the basket on offense.
This is Hopson's third season, and the coaching staff is still coaxing, cajoling, and coercing in hopes he will be fully vested in every game. What's next? A handwritten note from the bench?
Bench to Scotty: "We need you to play hard and stay focused for the next five minutes."
Five minutes later . . .
. . . Bench to Scotty: "Could you give us another five minutes?"
You get more than an education in star-prodding with this team. How many coaches have to check out whether a rap musician on their team received improper benefits under NCAA rules when he recorded a video?
Adolph Rupp just did a 360.
Managing UT's scout team presents another coaching challenge. It includes more four-star recruits than some SEC teams have in their starting lineup. Contrast that with the two former walk-ons making more meaningful contributions on game day.
Obviously, you can't keep everyone happy.
Last week's unhappiest scout was freshman Jordan McRae, who has been suspended indefinitely for his inappropriate behavior on a bus, whose passengers also included UT donors. One day, that experience might pay off for coach Tyler Summitt.
I can hear him now, as he addresses his college team before its first bus ride with fans: "Boosters on board. Let's keep it clean."